Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What Is A Good Teacher?

What is a good teacher?  Who was a good teacher to you?

I bet if you asked a hundred people on the street that question, none of them would say it was the teacher with whom they passed the standardized tests or showed adequate yearly progress.

And yet, in just a couple more years, my state, Ohio, plans to assess teachers on just that--student performance.  While I do see value in standards and even testing, I do not think it is the only factor or even the most important one.

Here's the thing.  In my heart I know I'm a really good teacher, but the things that my students, their parents, and I believe make me good are not based on standardized test scores.  For example I had a student this past year who fell in love with reading novels, and this quiet girl is talking about these novels with her friends--but she didn't pass the reading test.  Shouldn't that count for something?  And what about kids who never do homework or read away from school?  What about the kids who live in chaos?  Or homes that place low value on the process of learning?

I'm reminded of the words I told my students the day before testing began:
I want you to try your best on the tests.  You have learned so much, and you have worked hard.  But it is much more important to me that you learn how to get along with other people and be kind.  I would rather have you find a book you love to read this year than worry about passing a test.

And then I saw the results today, and my belief in those values wavered.  For a bit I felt not enough.  I thought those scores determined my worth as a teacher.  As I processed I just thought about amazing moments of growth that I saw in my students--as they role played conflict resolution, as they planted a small garden, as they read novels in book clubs at the end of the year, as they learned to explain their mathematical thinking, as they moved to a new classroom at the end of January, as they led class meetings, as they took ownership of the classroom and cleaned the floors so well the custodian bought them pizza.

And as I wonder about this all, I wonder why other professions aren't judged and evaluated the way teachers are.  I wonder why we don't start paying dentists on the rate of oral health and lack of cavities in their patients?  Wouldn't that be the proof we need to recognize a good dentist?

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